Should You Ever Call the Police On Your Teen?
Teens certainly know how to push our buttons, and they can frequently be a source of conflict in our homes. Sometimes, however, a teen can be more problematic than that. If you are the parent of a teen who is using drugs, engaged in illegal activity, or is violent or abusive, then the level of stress in your home is very high. In certain situations, you may wonder if it might be a good idea to call the police on your teen. It can be a very hard decision, but before making that call, make sure you understand what the police can and can’t do when called, the consequences on your child if you get the police involved, and what other alternatives you might have.
What Can the Police Do if You Call About Your Teen?
You should understand that once you call the police, you may not have control over what happens to your child. The officer decides how to handle the situation based on everything he or she is hearing and seeing.
You should know that the officer who answers your call may only enforce discipline in two situations: the commission of a status offense or a criminal offense. Truancy, underage drinking, tobacco and curfew violations are examples of offenses based on a teenager’s status as a juvenile; while selling drugs, stealing, and committing physical injury on another person are examples of criminal offenses. If your teen has committed a status offense, the officer may give them a warning, issue a citation, or, if this is not the first offense, remove the teenager from the home for evaluation. If your teenager has broken a criminal law, it is the duty of the officer to arrest your child, even if you request that they don’t.
If your teen has not committed either a status or criminal offense, then the police have no authorization to intervene.
The Consequences of Calling the Police
Deciding to call the police will have a major impact on your family, so you need to be prepared for the possible repercussions before you invite an officer into your family situation:
- If the police arrest your child (and they might even if you ask that they don’t), a criminal conviction may stay on your child’s permanent record (depending on your child’s age and the state in which you live). A police record will significantly impact your teen’s future, including finding employment.
- Calling the police can potentially damage your relationship with your teen. You teen will likely feel betrayed by you, and you may never be able to maintain a healthy relationship with them.
- It can feel embarrassing to you and to your teen when the neighbors are asking why the police came.
However, sometimes it is necessary to still make the call, despite how your child feels in the moment or what others may think.
Possible Reasons to Call Police
While there is little consensus among experts on whether calling the police on your teen is a good idea or not, they all agree that you should call if you feel in danger. Here are some examples of extreme teen behaviors that might warrant a 911 call:
Violent behavior. If your teen, who might very well be bigger and stronger than you, is punching walls, threatening violence, and/or shoving or hitting anyone, it is likely worth a phone call to the police. If you are afraid for your safety or for the safety of someone else in your home, you should call the police.
Illegal activity. Ultimately, as the parent, you are legally responsible for anything that happens in your home. If you discover that your teen has cocaine or heroin in their possession or that they have stolen goods in your home, you will have to make a judgment call whether you want to handle it yourself or call the police. Just remember that if your teen is dealing drugs or fencing stolen merchandise out of your home and they get caught, you can be arrested as an accomplice.
Pattern of bad behavior. Probably a major factor in your decision is whether the behavior you’re seeing is a one-time incident or a pattern of behavior. If your teen hits the wall in frustration after something significant happens, you don’t need to call the police, but if they are frequently acting or threatening violence and it seems to be escalating, then it may be time to involve the authorities.
Seek Professional Help
Long before you ever call the cops on your child, you should seek professional help if you are noticing serious behavior problems or substance abuse issues. Many behavioral problems are symptoms of underlying issues such as anger, anxiety or depression. As a parent, you cannot just ignore their bad behavior and hope it goes away. When you begin to notice a problem, contact your doctor and ask for a referral to a counselor. Even if your teen refuses to go, you can attend an appointment to discuss your options. (If paying a counselor is a difficulty, contact your local United Way office, and they can refer you to a counseling service that is free or income-based.)
Calling the police should be a last resort. The juvenile justice system may provide a consequence for your teen’s behavior, but most often, it does not treat the underlying problems or give kids the help they need.
Ultimately, every parent has to make this call on their own, and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. The best way to make the decision might be to ask yourself, “Years from now, will I regret that I called the cops on my teen or regret that I didn’t?” Think about your teen’s well-being and act in their best interest.